Emmitsburg Council of Churches


The Gospel according to St. John 6:1-21

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberius. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.

When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Phillip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Phillip answered him, "Six months wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.

One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.

When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going. The Gospel of the Lord

Notions of Jesus . . .

In this morning's Gospel lesson we are challenged by the immense demand for resources and resourcefulness that Jesus places on his disciples when he asks them: "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" Which, of any of us could even imagine feeding five thousand people even if we were given an entire week to plan a simple meal like bread and fish?? Supplying such a meal would be an overwhelming task for most of us. And yet, John's Gospel presents Jesus' demand of his disciples as a direct challenge to their physical, mental and spiritual abilities and today that challenge is effectively passed on to us . . . .

What are the impossible tasks that face you and I in our lives and in the greater needs of the human family and even of all of God's creation?? Whatever these needs are, they are our equivalent of the 5000 followers of Jesus who are hungering and weary after seeking the Lord for healing and deliverance without regard to their physical estate.

Of course, for the disciples as well as for us when we are faced with a mountain of a problem (like feeding 5000 people) -- we are more likely to react to the impossibility of such a request rather than approach the matter with a reasonable assurance that we might accomplish the will of Jesus. Like Phillip in the narrative, (who is a realist), as he points out to Jesus that "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get [even] a little bit of food!" We also are prone to becoming overwhelmed by the tasks that are demanded of us by a hungering world that is filled with injustices, wars, and calamities.

How can any of us, whether single or united in a coalition meet the demands of the crowds who cry out for healing and health and food in today's modern world? In Phillip's mind and in ours, it is impossible to feed the masses with the little resources we personally have to give.

But before we move on to the more optimistic view of Andrew who notices the boy with the bread and fish, let us consider for a moment, Jesus' ingenious subtlety as he draws his disciples attention to the needs of the masses.

By asking the question of Phillip, "Where shall we obtain bread?" Jesus immediately had the attention of the whole band of disciples. By asking "WHERE" rather than "Why don't you go get some bread?" Jesus has set up a non-threatening condition. And he allows his disciples to think about and consider how they might go about providing food for the multitude -- by what means will they feed this great crowd? Jesus has provoked his disciples to become conscious of the estate of the people.

By directing the disciples to be concerned for the needs of the crowd -- Jesus transfers some of the healing power of God from himself -- even to his followers-- YOU and I! And by this example of asking the simple question about "Where bread might be obtained?" Jesus has now caught our attention and has invited us to consider "Where it is" that we might play a part in God's healing and Sustaining Actions in the world. This, we know, is the work of the Kingdom of God.

After Phillip responds with his practical observation -- "Not even six months' wages would buy a little bit of food for all of these!" We then hear the voice of possibility from brother ANDREW . . .

"There is a boy HERE who has five barley loaves and two fish."

I like Andrew, he is an optimist! We might say that he thinks outside of the box. At the very least he is onto something! A boy is present with Fish and Bread . . . . What could this mean??? Andrew recognizes that there is "POTENTIAL" right there in their midst. And so the lunch of a child becomes the seed that will provide for a miracle.

Andrew is noting the key insight . . . It's not about "what we don't have" nor is it about "how much it will cost?" but it's about what we do have and our willingness to offer ourselves and our possessions (signs of his gracious love!) back up to God.

I once knew a boy named Andrew who, with his red hair and consistent smile and joking (sometimes course language!) always could see a solution to every problem, especially if it involved something mechanical! Of course, as I came of driving age I would seek out Andrew to help me find a suitable vehicle for driving around and operating my small business in farming and greenhouse growing.

My friend Andrew did not disappoint me! Where most of us would recognize an abandoned truck sitting in some overgrown underbrush with broken windows and some flat tires as a piece of worthless Junk, Andrew saw through the rust and broken glass that this old truck was something that could be made to run and still had useful value! And so it was that I ventured up to a farmstead, probably not too many miles from here, with Andrew to purchase an old GMC Bread Truck that was parked behind the corn crib down on the farm. To my amazement, when Andrew produced some jumper cables and a can of starting fluid the old engine sprang to life!! and suddenly the cracks in the windshield and the flat tires did not seem like such barriers to getting the old truck back on the road again!

My friend ANDREW, by his mechanical genius and diplomatic skills, also kept my father convinced that the little blue Plymoth Valiant that he drove to the office each day was constantly worth fixing in spite of the unusual noises, large quantities of oil, and expensive repair charges that Andrew and his brother collected from Dad. Like I said, Andrew was an Optimist!! Today Andrew is a professional helicopter pilot, so I am sure his skills are perfected and he is faithful and diligent in his task.

And so we return to this critical moment in John's Gospel as Jesus is expectantly observing his disciples' levels of creativity and degrees of faith. Looking more intently at the scene, it seems that John's Gospel has captured a charged moment in discipleship training. Jesus is watching and listening for his disciples to reach beyond themselves -- to exercise their faith. And for an instant it appears that Andrew has caught on to something -- the child with the five loaves and the two fish.

Here is the central idea, God's Kingdom can be embraced in the hands of an innocent child. IN the story the child represents the degree of powerlessness that is experienced by followers of Jesus in the face of a power pervasive society. The boy's offering of bread and fish are so humble and innocent, and yet they powerfully represent the meaning of giving all that one is able to give. Nothing more is required when what we give is given in the purity of our hearts.

Returning to the narrative we notice that Andrew's optimism was short lived as he kind of takes back his impulsive faithful response. Perhaps in Andrew's mind he re-thought about what Phillip had said, "Such a huge crowd -- five loaves, two fish -- this is a ridiculous notion!" To even imagine that they could carry enough food for all these people was bordering on absurdity. And so it is with us, in our human nature, that we are prone to criticize and discount others around us (and even ourselves) when a hopeful vision is presented of what "could be" or what "could happen" if everyone would practice charity with their neighbors, or pray for peace three times a day or recycle all of the possible materials that can be reclaimed or reused or up our giving to the church by 10% or buy some flowers for your wife without a reason!

Who knows what could happen if we increased our faith and faithfulness unto God and unto one another?!

By the Power of Jesus, the least likely outcome turns into a miracle -- the people are fed!

A child with practically nothing becomes the means to provide a meal for all.

Perhaps you are facing great difficulties and trials in your life or in the life of this congregation or of this community or of your school system and your feeling hopeless and helpless as do so many of the people of the world who are poor in health or who do not have an abundance of the world's goods or who are poor in spirit. But maybe "out of the blue" a Notion Comes. A notion like that which came to Andrew when he noticed the boy standing beside him in the crowd holding a few loaves of barley bread and a couple of fish. And the notion that Andrew had . . . Or the "notion" that you have . . . grabs a hold of you and by faith you feel as though you possess some answers to life's problems even as absurd as it may seem. These can be workings of the Spirit in our lives! We need to pay attention to the ways in which Jesus may be challenging, prompting, and inspiring us, by the Holy Spirit, to go out and feed and teach and CARRY the Good News to our neighbors and to the world.

Because it is by humble beginnings that Christ will work through us to bring about God's kingdom in our midst.

We are merely asked to act and to give from what God has given us in the various seasons of our lives. Luther talked about giving from our poverty and from our plenty if we have been so blessed. I was intrigued by the Old Testament lesson (II Kings 4:42-44) where the twenty loaves given by the man from Baal-Shalishah, provided sustenance for the one hundred men, and I wondered if this was not so much a miracle of multiplication as it might have been the miracle of sharing the limited bread amongst so many hungry men. Luther says, "Our Lord God does not bestow more on one than on another only to have us misuse it for purposes of arrogance and luxury, but to have us more willingly help others, who need it, and to save for them and for us." Sound advice!

Thanks be to God who blesses us beyond what we can possibly imagine. May our giving and receiving be done with humility and may we be led by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to act on our notions about what can be done and what can be used of God to alleviate human suffering and bring about conditions of flourishing for all. Amen.

May the peace of Christ fill us to overflowing by his word and presence in Eucharist.


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